Clock runs out on coal terminal, Sierra Club plays key role

By: Chad Calder, as published in The Advocate on December 31, 2017

The clock has run out on RAM Terminals' bid to build a coal export terminal in Plaquemines Parish, and environmental groups are cheering what could be the death of a project they warned would spew pollution, sicken residents and threaten a major coastal restoration project. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers confirmed that Nov. 30 was the deadline for RAM to complete its project or ask for an extension on its permit, and spokesman Ricky Boyett said Friday that neither of those things happened.

The agency had granted RAM the permit in late 2014. Similarly, the state Department of Natural Resources, which granted RAM Terminals a conditional use permit in early 2016, only to request more information from the company later that year, said Friday it has not heard anything since then. Armstrong Energy Inc., the St. Louis-based company that formed RAM Terminals LLC, could not be reached for comment Friday and generally hasn't responded to media inquiries about the proposed facility.

The Sierra Club, which led a coalition of environmental and community groups opposing the plant proposed for the Myrtle Grove/Ironton area, declared victory at the news. ''The proposed coal export terminal would have harmed a major restoration project in Louisiana's coastal master plan, the Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion,'' the group said in a news release. The group also said the project ''would have resulted in mile-long, uncovered coal trains running through communities like Gretna and Belle Chasse, turning residential areas into an industrial corridor. RAM's 80-foot uncovered piles (of coal) would have inundated the historic African-American community of Ironton and nearby Myrtle Grove and Wood Park with coal dust pollution.''

The Sierra Club's efforts to halt the project began at the grassroots level but ultimately garnered the support of the political establishment in Plaquemines and Jefferson parishes. ''This victory is a result of hard work by so many individuals who came together as a coalition to stand up for our communities and coastal protection,'' Plaquemines Parish Councilwoman Audrey Salvant said. ''Many times, we were told the RAM coal export terminal was a 'done deal' - and now it's done.'' 

''Our economy and livelihoods depend on coastal restoration,'' Jefferson Parish Councilman Ricky Templet said. ''We need to stand behind our commitment to coastal restoration and reject projects that undermine the critical work being done to restore our coast and protect our communities.''

Follow Chad Calder on Twitter, @Chad_Calder.